Sunday, August 16, 2009
Before I get to "Can Joe Mauer win the MVP?" how crazy was the end of the PGA? Going into today's final round, three players have a realistic chance at winning: Tiger Woods at -8, Padraig Harrington at -6, and Y.E. Yang at -6, with a whole bunch of other people who would need an amazing day to get into the conversation. Well, nobody even bothered to break 70, Harrington shot a +6 to drop completely out of contention, and Yang and Tiger went head-to-head (they were playing partners today) and Tiger is the one who blinked.
After Yang's chip in for Eagle at 14 to give him a 1 shot lead, Tiger had plenty of chances to at least make a run at tying it up, but coughed them up. He flubbed a 5-Wood trying to get home in two at the par-5 fifteenth, then missed the green on all three closing holes. Yang even tried to help him out by bogeying seventeen, but Tiger went ahead and bogied as well. Just an incredible thing. I won't quite jump on the "Tiger has lost his mystique" bandwagon, but it was pretty mind blowing watching the best, most intense, nerves-of-steel competitor I've ever seen (outside of Scott Norwood, of course) choke away the championship, playing at a similar level and making the same mistakes he's watched his Sunday playing partners make time after time. I'm still in a little bit of shock.
I also want to mention that Rory McIroy has the absolute hottest girlfriend on the PGA Tour. Just sick hot. Anyway, back to the question, "Can Joe Mauer win the MVP award on a losing team?"
Now, it can be done and has been before. Maybe most famously by the Hawk, Andre Dawson, who won in 1987 with the Cubs, putting up a line of .287/.328/.568 with 49 home runs (in an era when nobody hit that many) and 137 rbi for a team that finished 76-85 and dead last in the division, 18.5 games out of first. Of course, Jack Clark probably should have won the MVP that year, and he played for a division winner, so the writers don't always follow any kind of recognizable logic. That will actually play in Mauer's favor - everybody likes him. Personal bias doesn't seem to affect baseball MVP voting as much as other sports (see Bonds with 7 MVPs and Jeff Kent actually won one), but it certainly won't hurt Golden Joe.
Of course, in recent years the trend has been to only give the MVP award to someone on a division winner, with the asinine argument that the award should go to the most valuable player and not the best player and that a great player on a bad team can't be valuable, so that doesn't help since this Twins squad might be the worst baseball team in the league since the Twins of 1999. I took a look at the AL MVP winners going back to 1990, and the team's the winners played on won their division 15 times, with another two wild card winners. That mean's there were two AL MVPs on teams that didn't win their division; 1991 Cal Ripken, and 2002 Alex Rodriguez.
Ripken's Orioles were 67-95, and finished 24 games out of first place. Ripken definitely deserved the award that year, as he was clearly the best player in the league. He put up .323/.374/.566, with 34 homers and 116 rbi, finishing in the top five in pretty much every category. Frank Thomas could make an argument, with a better OBP and OPS, but Ripken has him in every other category.
A-Rod's win in 2003 isn't quite as clear cut. He definitely had an outstanding year, hitting for .298/.396/.600 with 47 homers and 118 rbi for the 71-91 Rangers, while Carlos Delgado of the 86-76 Blue Jays hit .302/.426/.593 with 42 and 145. I have no idea why A-Rod won this one, but it goes to show that a player can win the MVP while playing for a losing team, even if he isn't the best player in the league that season (as 2 of the 3 I just looked at weren't).
Of course, it can go the other way too. You just have to look back at 2006, when David Ortiz should have won the award going away, but ended up finishing third behind Morneau and Derek Jeter, simply because the Red Sox missed the playoffs. A similar thing happened in 2004, too, this time to Manny Ramirez. His team didn't win the division (although they did win the Wild Card) and he lost MVP to Vlad Guerrero despite having superior numbers. And that seems to be the way the major sports are trending to go with their MVP awards in the past 10 years, but that A-Rod outlier means you can't rule it out just yet.
Is Mauer's season good enough to win? Right now, before today's game where once again I got to watch a Twins' starter completely implode and not bother to get out of the third, he is hitting .378/.446/.630. He also has 22 home runs, and 73 rbi through May, June, July, and almost exactly half of August. If we roughly project those out, we can reasonably expect Mauer to finish with 31 homers and 104 rbi. He is currently leading the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging (and obviously OPS) - simply incredible, and maybe the best season a catcher has ever had.
.378 would be the highest batting average ever by a catcher (since Lave Cross's .394 in 1894). His .446 OBP would be the highest by a catcher since Mickey Cochrane's .452 in 1935, and the third best since 1900. Even his .630 slugging, long considered a weak point of his game, would rank third-best by a catcher ever, behind just 2003 Javy Lopez and 1997 Mike Piazza. All this leads up to an OPS of 1.076 - the best number a catcher has ever put up.
Even his home runs are nothing to dismiss, as if he hits 31 it would be the 31st most in a season by a catcher, and he would become just the 26th catcher to hit 30 in a season. And I'm tired of manually counting stuff up, but those 104 rbi would rank similarly in the history of catchers.
The only season that comes close is Mike Piazza's 1997, universally recognized as the best hitting season a catcher has ever had. That year Piazza hit .362/.431/.638 with 40 homers and 124 rbi, and finished second in the league in both OPS and MVP voting to Larry Walker. When you add in that Piazza had a noodle-arm, and Mauer is regarded as excellent defensively (not to mention his creepily squeaky-clean off the field reputation) there is little doubt Mauer is currently having the greatest season for a catcher in the history of baseball.
We've shown it's tough to win on a losing team, although it can be done, but we've also shown that Mauer is making history. He will have some obstacles, especially in that his three top rivals for the award either play in the cities that all media love (Youkilis and Texeira) or play on his own team and might steal votes (Morneau) but make no mistake, we are absolutely watching one of the most incredible seasons anyone has put together, and that should be enough for him to win.